When you walk into a pet store or fish store they really want to sell you some fish. Sometimes they will offer a lot of advice. Sometimes that advice is good and sometimes it is not. These fish here are often sold as beginner fish, but really shouldn't be. They are either mess, large, sensitive, aggressive, or they have more than one of these traits that make them more difficult fish to keep. Make sure you know what not to get when you go to pick out a fish.


1. Goldfish

Goldfish are one of the worst fish for beginners that are often sold as beginner fish. The basic or common goldfish is inexpensive and you can even get them as “feeder” goldfish for mere pennies. However, all goldfish require more care than beginner fish should. First of all, goldfish get big. They should never be kept in a small bowl. Even the smallest varieties really should have a 30 gallon fish tank. The second biggest issue about goldfish is that they are messy. Goldfish eat everything in sight and then they poop more than any other fish. This makes it harder to keep the water quality up in a goldfish tank and makes it harder to keep the goldfish healthy, happy, and alive.  

Credit: Heptagon, Wikipedia, PD

2. Neon Tetras

Tetras as a whole are pretty good fish for newbie fish keepers. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, they are peaceful and get along with most other types of fish, and they are pretty hard. With one exception. The neon tetra is not a hardy fish. In fact, a lot of them die off. They are inexpensive and many people view them as a dime a dozen type of fish, but they really aren't easy to keep alive. Often you have to buy several batches before you have a small school that will stay alive. Their bright blue and red markings make them popular though and their price tag makes it easy to want to go for them.  

Neon Tetras(95321)
Credit: Aleš Tošovský, Wikipedia, PD

3. Plecos

Plecos are often the worst fish you can buy as a new fish keeper. This is because the common pleco kept in most fish stores and pet stores isn't really a good aquarium fish in general. This is a fish that produces more waste than other fish of comparable size and it grows huge. I don't mean that it grows huge and it won't fit into a ten gallon tank. I mean that they grow huge and shouldn't be put into a 120 gallon tank. There are a lot of other types of plecos out there, many of them require some sort of knowledge because they have special dietary needs. One decent pleco for beginners is the brushynose pleco or the bristlenose pleco. These creatures only get to be about four or five inches and fit into a home aqurium better. They also eat leftovers and are one of the few fish that are called algae eaters who actually eat algae.  

4. Tiger Barbs

Tiger barbs are pretty cool looking fish. They are easy to care for and they aren't particularly picky. The real problem comes in the form of their attitude. These guys are often sold to people wanting community tanks, but they are pretty aggressive with their tank mates and can even kill the other fish in there. On the other hand, as much as many people like them, they don't really want a tank with just them in it. Green tiger barbs look very different from regular tiger barbs, but produce the same results because they are the same type of fish. If you really want them, get just them. You can combine the regular variety with the green variety if you want to.  

Tiger Barbs
Credit: Faucon, Wikipedia, CC BY SA

5. Algae Eaters

Chinese algae eaters, Siamese algae eaters, albino algae eaters, and other algae eaters are sold to keep the sides of the tank clean. They are regularly recommended for keeping the fish tank free of algae, but what most people who sell fish don't know is that they don't really eat much algae once they get bigger. Juveniles consume algae, but adults would rather eat anything else. In addition to being bad at the job most people buy for them, they are also known for sucking on the slime coat of your other fish. This can and does kill the other fish in the tank. Most algae eaters get up to about five or six inches. Otocinclus catfish don't fall into this category. They do eat algae and they leave fish alone. However, they are delicate, don't do well if the water is well aged and avoiding nitrogen swings, and they must be in groups of at least three.  

Algae Eater
Credit: Gourami Watcher, Wikipedia, CC BY SA

6. Hatchetfish

Hatchetfish are really cool looking little fish. However, they are delicate and often have a difficult time in the tank of a new fish keeper because the water quality isn't stable. They are also carnivores rather than the omnivores that many fresh water species are. This makes it difficult to keep them alive without a high quality fish food that is supplemented with frozen and live foods. Hatchetfish will choose to starve to death rather than eat subpar food that is not appropriate for them.


7. Bala Shark

The bala shark is not sensitive to water changes. It's easy to feed. Peaceful (even with species much smaller than they are), but at the same time it is not appropriate for most beginners. Here's why. One bala shark should never be kept on their own. They are very skiddish and nervous when on their own. In fact, they do best in groups of five or more. The problem is that they get very large. They commonly grow to 14 to 16 inches and need a very large tank to start with. Even the small ones that you buy in the store will grow quickly and need a tank of at least 55 gallons for three of them. They will outgrow that within a couple of years and need an even bigger tank. In most situations, they just aren't suited to tank life because they need a huge tank for a small number of them and most people don't have that kind of tank available or that they want to dedicate to their bala sharks.


Bala Sharks
Credit: Srose, Wikipedia, PD

8. Glass Catfish

Glass catfish or ghost catfish are really awesome. They have see through bodies that allow you to see their bones. It really is cool. However, this schooling fish is very delicate. It must be kept in groups of at least five and requires a larger tank to do that because it gets up to three inches. They are very sensitive to water quality changes and they prefer acidic water (most water that comes out of the tap is above 7 on the pH scale and therefore either neutral or alkaline).  

9. Spiny Eels

Spiny eels aren't real eels, but they look cool too. They are elongated, have a long looking face, and they come in several varieties. Common spiny eels that are sold in pet shops include the peacock eel, tire track eel (or zig zag eel), and fire eel. However, there are other spiny eels that are also sold. There are a lot of different treasons that these fish aren't good for beginners. First of all, they are large. The smallest varieties grow to one foot, but specimens such as the fire eel can grow to three feet. Additionally some of them are very sensitive and often harmed in the process of collection, shipping them to the pet store, and then bringing them home. Finally, while the spiny eels have a wide range of food options, they often munch on fish. They will eat your fish in the night. You have to have large peaceful species in the tank that won't end up too small for the eel that is likely to grow large.  

10. Dyed Fish or Painted Fish

Dyed fish might be becoming less popular, but they are something many people don't even realize happens regularly. There are a number of different types of dyed fish on the market and they shouldn't be purchased by anyone, especially someone new. The most common fish is the Painted glassfish. It is a glear fish that is sold in brilliant neon colors including pink, yellow, green, and blue. There are also other kinds of painted or dyed fish available including fruit tetras, jelly bean parrots, bubblegum parrots, blueberry oscars, painted corys, and painted botias. The reasons you shouldn't buy these fish is that they have a high risk of dying from the dyes, they are more sensitive because they have already been damaged, and by buying one (even to save it) you are supporting the dyed fish industry. The good news is that while GloFish look like painted or dyed fish, they aren't.


Painted Indian Glassfish
Credit: Quartermass, Wikipedia, PD

When first starting out with fish keeping you want to make sure that you choose fish that you can keep alive. Some of the fish that are recommended for beginners are actually good for beginners. Unfortunately there are a number of fish that are sold as beginner fish that aren't suitable for beginners. It's a good idea to get a tank set up, add a few fish, let it cycle, and then once you have kept your fish alive through the cycle (about six week) consider trying more fish. However, until your are confident that you can meet the needs of a fish you should avoid them. If you would like to know what fish are good for beginners then check out the Top Ten Fish For Beginners.

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